This article is from the Traditional Siamese Breed FAQ, by Laura Gilbreath firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Siamese is considered by many to be a "natural" breed - one that
developed without the intervention of man. Pictures of seal-point
Siamese cats appear in the manuscript "Cat-Book Poems", written in
Siam (now Thailand) sometime between 1350 and 1700.
There are a great many legends regarding the origin of the breed -
especially the crossed eyes and kinked tails. According to some of the
legends, the Siamese cat guarded Buddhist temples and was considered
sacred - and was only kept by priests and royalty.
The first Siamese cats appeared in the West in the mid-to-late 1800s.
Though initially described as "an unnatural, nightmare kind of cat",
they quickly became popular with fanciers, even though these early
cats were delicate and subject to health problems. These first cats
had crossed eyes and kinked tails, characteristics which are now
considered faults, and have almost completely disappeared as a result
of careful breeding. Photographs from the late 1880s of some of the
first cats to be imported from Siam show the thick, round heads and
solid, muscular bodies that distinguish the Traditional Siamese from
today's show Siamese.
As the Siamese breed has developed over the years, some breeders have
preferred the rounder look, while others have preferred a slender look
with a wedge-shaped head. During the 1950s and 1960s, the differences
became even more pronounced: show breeders developed an extremely
slender cat with a very long, triangular head, almond-shaped eyes, and
flaring ears. This look caught on with show-oriented Siamese breeders
and with judges. Other breeders, who did not like the new look,
continued to breed the larger, round-headed cats. These "Traditional"
breeders found that their cats were no longer competitive in the show
ring and stopped showing. A great many also stopped registering their
cats, though they continued their breeding programs with their
existing purebred Siamese stock.
Today, Traditional Siamese cats are somewhat rare, though they seem to
be making a comeback, as the breed is popular with pet buyers.
It should be pointed out that Traditional Siamese _are_ purebred cats,
descended from the original cats imported from Siam. A pointed cat
that you find in the shelter, though it may look Siamese, is probably
not a Traditional Siamese cat. Enough purebred Siamese cats have
interbred with domestic cats over the years that the gene which
creates the pointing pattern is found in a large number of cats, and
some may look Siamese when in fact they have very little Siamese blood